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Retire Numbers for Ducks’ Dynamic Duo

April 3rd, 2020 by dk

Sabrina Ionescu and her teammates weren’t expecting to be in Eugene this weekend. They made plans a year ago to be in New Orleans together, playing for the NCAA Women Basketball Championship. They anticipated cutting down the nets as victors this Sunday evening. Many of their fans made arrangements to be there to witness such an historic moment for the Ducks — finishing some hard business in the Big Easy.

Head Coach Kelly Graves started his planning much earlier. While Ionescu was still in high school, Graves shared his “2020 vision” with her. Ionescu came to Eugene with that vision in mind. “Four in four” became Graves’ mantra to his recruits and the team.

Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard were freshmen in 2016. When Graves preached that he wanted this team to reach the Final Four within four years, he was talking directly to these two future superstars. Once these two freshmen became seniors, he expected them to be playing  together in New Orleans — to reach the Final Four in four years.

It took them three. After losing to Baylor in 2019, Ionescu and Hebard put their heads down and together to accomplish the original vision for 2020. Is that why Ionescu has worn No. 20 for these four years? Given her preternatural ability to stay focused on a goal, it wouldn’t surprise me.

The NCAA tournament was canceled before it began, one of the less consequential casualties of this coronavirus calamity. Our nation cannot afford distraction, as we prepare for domestic devastation not seen since the Spanish Flu outbreak.

2020 yielded to 1919. That is as it should be. Nevertheless, two other numbers should be remembered for future generations in Eugene: No. 20 and No. 24.

I wrote last week that it’s probably just as well that we’re being forced to take a break from spectator sports, because the greater good must always prevail over counting winners and losers. Ionescu and Hebard never failed to remind us of that very truth. They always shared credit with their teammates, their coaches, their fans, and the game.

The University of Oregon should retire their jersey numbers, so that future fans can learn of the excellence we were lucky enough to witness. There’s just one little problem with this simple request.

No. 20 can be retired for Ionescu and it should be. But Hebard’s No. 24 has already been retired once, to commemorate all-star, Olympian, coach and civic leader Bev Smith. Smith graciously agreed to “loan” her retired jersey to Hebard in 2016. We can’t retire the same number twice. Hebard’s number pre-retired.

I have a way to resolve this dilemma. Retire No. 20, keep No. 24 retired, but also retire No. 44. When Graves added those two jerseys together on the floor, genuine greatness emerged. It was what these two players did for each other  —on the court and off — that was truly remarkable. Executing the pick-and-roll perfectly together, they became unstoppable.

Hebard, Ionescu and Graves built an incredible chemistry. Their vision never wavered. These two special players and their jersey numbers — combined — deserve to be remembered long past 2020.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. An earlier version of this column appeared in print with Sabrina’s last name misspelled nine times. The writer regrets such a grievous error.

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